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Noskas conservation efforts start with contour strips

By Carol Stender
cstender@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 12/06/2012 2:36 PM

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BROWERVILLE, Minn. — It didn't take long for Jay and Marie Noska to discover that 85 of their 180 acre farm they purchased in 1985 was challenging cropland.

The good soil was at the bottom of its rolling hills, said Jay. They planted full-season varieties at the top and shorter season corn toward the bottom.

A conservation program helped them turn the troubled land into more efficient and productive acres. With the help of the Todd County Soil and Water Conservation District, 120-foot contour strips were put in place. The Noskas soon saw 10 to 12 bushel-per-acre yield increases.

"It's just picking the right hybrids for the right spot," said Jay. "You don't have to worry about it. It's easy to grow the crops and it holds the water out. The water doesn't pond on the land anymore."

Their varieties includes a branch-rooted alfalfa that helps hold the soil.

The project is just one of several conservation efforts the Noskas have initiated on their dairy farm. For their work, the Noskas have been chosen as Todd County Conservation Farmers of the Year.

They purchased the farm from Marie's parents, Joe and Marie Chihos. The Noskas had been living in Eagle Bend, where Jay worked as a mechanic. The Chihos weren't farming the land themselves. Marie's father had an off-farm job and rented out the land.

The Noskas gradually took back more of the farming operation themselves. Five years after the purchase they started milking cows. They milk 46 cows in the tie-stall barn, finish around 30 steers and care for 70 more calves, heifers and dry cows. They raise corn and alfalfa on the sandy loam soils.

They maintain a pasture for dry cows and heifers. Jay fertilizes the grass with nitrogen and plans to frost seed clover into the heifer's pasture area.

They put in a stacking slab last year, which also holds the manure from the heifer area through a Natural Resources Conservation Service cost share. They have six months of storage and haul the manure twice a year. Vegetative strips filter any other run off.

Berms also contain run off from the feedlots.

The couple built several barns and sheds. They constructed barns for the calves, for heifers and for steers. Jay built a machine shed and shop=.

The contour strip project in 1987 was the first of their conservation efforts. Next, they planted trees along the creek. It didn't turn out exactly as planned, they said. They are now replanting because some of the trees died. They fenced along a creek that runs through the pasture and leave 10 acres for wildlife.

Close to 20 years ago they planted windbreaks.

They plan to tile their land and have the necessary permits , but finding a tiler to do the work on a small farm is difficult, they said.

Their next plan is to restore the woods removing wild buckthorn.

The Noskas have developed a manure management plan. They soil test all of their fields and apply manure where needed.

"I am happy with the way it turned out," Jay said of the manure plan.

He doesn't use a plow anymore. During one open winter, he'd plowed all the fields.

"There was a lot of dirt all over," he said.

Now they have a chisel plow with row cleaners on the combine. The one disadvantage is that the soil doesn't warm up as fast, but the benefits outweigh the negatives, he said.

"I am proud of this," he said of their conservation projects. "We have put a fair amount of money and time in this and have had a good experience working with SWCD. It's turned out well."